Getting more out of Google searches

Making the most of Google search tools and advanced operators

By Becky Cunningham, last updated Mar 5, 2018.


  1. Becky
    Do you ever have times when you’re trying to search for something on Google, and no matter what combination of words you try you come up short? Frustrating, isn’t it. The good news is that there are lots of ways you can search more efficiently, so read on to find out more…

    Google logo.png

    The basics

    First things first. Google is a pretty intuitive search engine nowadays, and there are some things you don’t need to worry about getting right. Spelling and capitalisation don’t matter, and Google usually ignores punctuation unless it’s part of a ‘search operator’ (more on those below).

    There are many quick answers that Google can help you with. For example, if Google knows your location then all you need to search for is ‘weather’ to get a local forecast – you don’t need to type out ‘What is the weather in London?’. Likewise, it can also carry out simple calculations and unit conversions, saving you the trouble of finding a calculator. If you want to look up the definition of a word, for example ‘motherboard’, then just search for ‘define motherboard’ and it will bring up a definition.

    However, sometimes Google gets it wrong, so don’t rely on a promoted page for the right answer. Google promotes popular pages that it thinks answer your query, but it does not check them for factual accuracy. Tread carefully.

    You can refine basic searches by using the Tools – in text searches this allows you to specify a country of origin and how recent the results are. Using the search tools in an image search allows you to choose the image size, predominant colour, type of image, upload time, and usage rights – all of which can be very useful.

    Tool bar.png

    So that covers the basics, but what if you’re looking for something in particular and just can’t find it? Rather than check through pages and pages of results, it’s far better to use search operators.

    Search operators

    So what exactly are search operators? Simply put, they allow you to tell Google exactly what you’re looking for. It’s also worth noting that you can combine search operators in one search to further refine what you’re looking for.

    We’ve got a list below of the main search operators:
    • Exclude a word: Sometimes you want to exclude a certain word from your search, and you can do this by using the minus sign immediately followed by the word you want to exclude. For example, ‘cryptocurrency -bitcoin’ would bring up search results for cryptocurrency excluding bitcoin.
    • Exact match: Conversely sometimes you want to search for an exact match, so to do this simply wrap quote marks around your words. For example, “pc review uk”.
    • Wildcards: If you are searching for something that includes an unknown word, then use the asterisk. For example, if you’re trying to remember a song and know some of the lyrics, use wildcards for the unknown words, eg ‘don’t go * waterfalls’ (FYI, it’s chasing waterfalls, not Jason Waterfalls)
    • Range of numbers: If you want to search for a range of numbers then use .. between the start and end numbers (note it’s two dots not three). For example, ‘gtx 1050..1080’ will bring up all search results for the GeForce GTX 1050, 1060, 1070, and 1080 graphics cards.
    • Specific site: You can limit your search to a specific site by putting "site:" in front of a site or domain. For example, “site:www.pcreview.co.uk ryzen” will bring up all mentions of ‘Ryzen’ on pcreview.co.uk. This can be a useful way to find what you’re looking for on a site that doesn’t have a good search feature.
    • Related site: If you put "related:" in front of a web address, it will show you other sites that are related to that site. For example, related:google.com will bring up other search engines.
    • Cache: Sometimes a site may be down for some reason, but you can still access Google’s cache of that site by putting "cache:" in front of the site address.
    • Social media: If you want to limit your search to social media, put @ in front of the name of the site. For example: @twitter.
    • Hashtags: Following on from this, you can also search for hashtags on Google by putting # in front of a word or phrase (without spaces).
    • Combine searches: If you want to bring up multiple criteria in your search results, put "OR" between each search query. For example, cats OR dogs.

    Search using an image

    Google has the ability to run a search using an image instead of a search term. Click on Images on Google’s main page, then click on the camera icon in the search bar (if you hover your mouse over it says ‘Search by image’). You can then either paste in a link to an image that is already online, or upload an image from your PC. This can be useful if you are trying to find out where a particular image originated from, or which other sites host the image. Google also has the ability to try and figure out what the image is of, and it will bring up other images that are visually similar.

    Image search.png

    Other tools

    Don’t forget to check the Settings at the top of the page. Search Settings allows you to change the number of results shown per page, to turn safe search on or off, and more. There is also a link to helpful information (such as a reminder of search operators).

    If you still can’t find what you’re looking for, then all is not lost. You can do an advanced search at google.com/advanced_search, and this allows you to refine your search by factors such as region, language, date of last update, and more.

    Advanced search.png

    Finally, if you want to view and / or delete your Google search activity, then you can do this at myactivity.google.com. You need to be signed in to your Google account in order to do this. You can also manage whether Google will save information about you across their services, from Google Maps to YouTube and more.

    If you have any other helpful tips that haven’t been mentioned here, feel free to share them with us in the comments section. Happy searching!